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Europe

Irish prime minister calls general election after resignation row

Troubled Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has set a date for a general election after a chaotic 24 hours in parliament. Cowen has been under pressure since Ireland sought an economic bailout from the EU and IMF.

Brian Cowen makes a speech to parliament.

Brian Cowen faces a challenging election campaign

Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen has announced that he intends to hold a general election on March 11th.

The decision comes after a political row with his junior coalition partner, the Green Party, over the resignation of five government ministers.

The resignations caused uproar in parliament on Thursday, following indications that Cowen had planned to replace the five cabinet ministers with new lawmakers from his Fianna Fail party in a major government reshuffle.

Cowen said he would "go to the country with a strong front bench line up" and said the election was about "the future of the country."

'Worst government in history'

Protesters marching through Dublin in November.

Thousands of protesters march in November in response to the EU-IMF bailout.

Speculation was rife that the Greens were threatening to pull out of the coalition over the cabinet changes.

This would have triggered a general election in three weeks' time. Calling for the dissolution of parliament has ensured that there will be a seven-week lead-up to the election.

The compromise averted further chaos after parliament was suspended following unruly scenes in which opposition leaders refused to allow the chamber to conduct its planned business until Cowen explained what was going on.

"This is the worst government in history," said Enda Kenny, leader of the opposition Fine Gael. "This would not have happened even in the days of great dictators. It is unprecedented, what you have done. These are the last days of the worst government in the history of the state."

Despite winning a confidence vote in his party this week, Cowen goes into the election with personal approval ratings of just 10 percent.

His Fianna Fail party fares little better at 14 percent, leaving them with an uphill struggle to keep power in March.

The Greens have been calling for an election since last year, when the government was forced to seek a bailout from the EU and the IMF to deal with an unprecedented economic crisis.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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